Bangalore, India: In the satellite industry, ‘small’ could be the next big thing in the coming years. ‘Smallsats’ cost less, weigh less, can be built fast and launched quickly in multiples and pack in just as much punch, according to D.V.A. Raghav Murthy, ISRO’s Project Director for Small Satellites.
“They can achieve 90 per cent of what big satellites can at five per cent of the cost and do 17 per cent of their tasks at one per cent of the cost,” said Koteswara Rao, Director, Laboratory for Electro-Optics Systems at ISRO.
If India has had its IMS-1 and the upcoming IMS-2, both carrying the latest technologies in earth observation, Russia, the US and Israel are known to have small, short-life military spy satellites that can be quickly put into orbit.
Classed as nano or piko; micro (up to 100 kg) or mini (up to 500 kg), or the 10-cm ‘cubesats’, small sats cost under INR 1 crore in India compared to INR 200-300 crore for larger 2-tonne class satellites, said Murthy at a session on small satellites at the Bengaluru Space Expo, Banglore, India.
Universities are eyeing smallsats as good educational tools for engineering students. Recently, ISRO launched StudSat, a satellite by Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh engineering students. IIT-Kanpur’s Jugnu and IIT-Bombay’s Pratham are in the pipeline, while Anna University’s Anusat was the first such Indian student satellite to go into orbit.
Dr Susmita Mohanty, Mumbai-based founder and CEO of space start-up Earth2Orbit India Pvt Ltd, said, “Nano and small satellites for various purposes are showing a growth rate of at least 30 per cent a year, led by the US. There would be 415 satellites in a near-earth orbit by 2014.”
Earth2Orbit, which is an informal overseas marketing associate for ISRO’s earth imageries, also wants to bring in small satellites to be launched on the PSLV, which is emerging as a favourite in this band, she said. The smallsat launch business was pegged at USD160 billion a year and the Indian workhorse launcher, she said, should capture at least 20 per cent of this business.